Friday, June 21, 2024

Johnson advocates for Barksdale projects at Armed Services hearing

by BIZ Magazine

United States Representative Mike Johnson (LA-04) discussed several issues of major importance to Barksdale Air Force Base with Air Force officials, including Acting Secretary John Roth, at Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing “Department of the Air Force Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request.”

Johnson used his time in the hearing to obtain confirmation from the officials that they are committed to Barksdale’s priorities. Among the most pressing issues Johnson addressed was the pending construction of a new entrance gate to the base. Johnson asked Acting Secretary Roth, “[W]ill the Air Force commit to seeing this project through and to reaffirming to stakeholders that they can trust when the Air Force says it’s going to do something—that that promise will be kept?”

Roth responded, “Yes. We are committed to working with our partners here to make sure that the project happens.”

In addition, Congressman Johnson had Roth and the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Charles Brown, discuss the strategic value of a Weapons Generation Facility at Barksdale and ongoing efforts to modernize B-52 aircraft before the year 2030.  

Click here for the video of Congressman Johnson’s line of questioning at the hearing this afternoon, or read the full transcript below.

Johnson: Secretary Roth, it was great having you at Barksdale recently to see firsthand the great work our Airmen are doing in northwest Louisiana. And as you’re aware, the work done on base is critically important to maintaining our national security, especially as we continue our ongoing nuclear modernization efforts.

As you know, one issue I’m particularly interested in is the ongoing struggle to construct the new entrance gate and the access road at Barksdale. The state and local governments have invested considerable amounts to construct the interchange that will allow traffic to flow to the new gate from the interstate.

The point is that the state and local governments have held strong to their end of the bargain and committed millions of dollars to the project based on assurances that the Air Force will see the project through. To be frank, the Air Force has fumbled the ball on this critical project.

First, the project was severely under bid. And then there was an unwillingness to reprogram funds to solve that shortfall. So, I certainly appreciate that the new gate was listed on the Air Force’s unfunded priority list for this fiscal year. And I’m going to work with all my colleagues to make sure we get this squared away once and for all.

But my question is, Mr. Roth, will the Air Force commit to seeing this project through and to reaffirming to stakeholders that they can trust when the Air Force says it’s going to do something—that that promise will be kept?

Roth: Yes. We are committed to working with our partners here to make sure that the project happens.

Johnson: Thank you for that. And on a different note, I was very pleased to see the line item in the FY22 budget request to construct our Weapons Generation Facility at Barksdale. That’s been a big focus of mine and many in the Louisiana delegation for some time now.

Can you or General Brown comment on the strategic value that a Weapons Generation Facility at Barksdale will bring to our country and the versatility that it will provide to the Air Force in ensuring that we have a strong strategic deterrent?

Brown: The Weapons Generation Facility will actually make it much easier for our Airmen to be responsive in how we actually generate combat power, in particular from our foreign bases and from our nuclear bases that support ICBMs. So not only for Barksdale, but for the other locations where we’ll need to actually build out weapons generation facilities, and modernize our capability to match up with not only the technology and platforms we’re providing, but also to make sure it actually works well to support us against whatever threats might come our way.

Johnson: Thank you for that General. On the strategic importance of the aircraft itself—in the past year, we’ve seen B-52s from Barksdale and elsewhere deployed all over the world, from Europe and the Middle East over to the Indo Pacific. And according to the Air Force, the current B-52 engines will become unsustainable by 2030.

Secretary Roth, what is the Air Force doing to ensure that the B-52’s engines are replaced before that looming deadline?

Roth: We have an ongoing acquisition program to replace the engines. And not only that, but we’ve actually put that program on the new modern accelerated acquisition kind of a process. We’re using some of the authorities that we’ve gotten over the last couple of years. So our estimate is that using some of the new mid-tier acquisition authorities we will be able to shave about three years off the acquisition lead time in order to make that happen.

Johnson: We’re very grateful for that prioritization. And as you and I were walking beneath those big birds not long ago, I remarked about the engineering marvel that that will be a 100 year aircraft as projected, it’s really amazing.

General Brown, with the limited availability of the B1 and B2 bombers right now, and the B21 still in development, what would be the impact of a significant delay to the B-52 reengineering effort from an operational perspective?

Brown: It would decrease operational availability, and that’s why going down the path of the modernization in the engine, it’s important that we make the right efforts to do the modernization so we have that operational availability and the flexibility to provide airpower anytime, anywhere in support of our command commanders.

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